A good while back I did a feature on a group helping out community members who were in need.
That is (fortunately) not an unusual story for this newspaper to do; there are many kind people in the community who do a lot for others, with no expectation of repayment and many times not even wanting recognition. In fact, there have been some truly wonderful stories over the years that I just couldn’t get, for that very reason — they didn’t want a big deal made out of it.
Anyway, this was about a group that does a whole lot for others and I was focusing on a particular event they had just finished. It was wonderful, heartwarming and gave me chills to think of all that they had done and all that it had cost them in time, money and effort, all completely out of the goodness of their hearts.
Following the interview, an offhand discussion came up about a recent incident where a young man kept local law enforcement at a standoff for some time due to the fear that he would take his own life.
The comments that followed that conversation really shocked me.
Several (not all) of the group said the cops should just have gone ahead and shot him. One said he was just going to go to prison where our tax money would just have to feed and clothe him for many years. In effect, there was no point in keeping him alive. Another said that they should just have let him go ahead and kill himself.
All of that gave me chills again, but this time not in a good way.
I had been feeling one way, and then, and then…
I couldn’t get my head around it. Here were these great people — these kind people — who I would have bet would have given their last dollar to someone, anyone, in need, saying that young man who was in some kind of serious trouble (mentally ill, addicted, maybe both) should have just been allowed to die, or even “done away with” by police officers, right there on the spot.
Then I had to write the story about this great thing they had done, and I did, trying my best to do it justice because it was a great story, but in the back of my mind was that conversation following the interview.
It tainted it all for me.
I will never look at them quite the same way or remember that story just for the all the good that it did, no, my first memory will be of the callousness of those careless statements. Did they really mean all that?
I sure hope not. I hope they were just joking around in some weird way and I just didn’t get it.
After all, that young man was, is, somebody’s son, somebody’s loved one. Someone (hopefully) once looked into his little face and dreamed great things for him. And if they didn’t, then maybe that’s one of the reasons why he found himself where he was that day, threatening to take his own life. I don’t know and frankly it really doesn’t matter in the long run.
What does matter is that he was another human being and in need of help. His actions were a cry for that help, inappropriate and dangerous as they were.
Then I began to think about myself and how maybe I could use that experience and my feelings from that conversation to be a better, more thoughtful, person.
I thought and continue to try to think about the things I say and how I say them. How often am I careless with my words? How often do I say something crass or unthinking, and (hopefully) if it’s something like that, something that I don’t really mean?
Oh boy, have I often said things that I regret.
But I wonder how many times I have left someone with a bad impression, and a bad memory, of myself. It makes me sad to think the answer is probably too often.
I guess my point is — words matter.
We should always remember who we are and who we want to become and strive for that, in both deeds and in words. We should always work to check our hearts and minds for the real reasons behind what we say and do.
I also firmly believe that’s part and parcel of the lost art of critical thinking (but that’s another column).
The tongue is indeed the wickedest member of our bodies, and unfortunately it is also our betrayer, because it too often speaks from the heart, even when we don’t intend it to.
Margie Richards is a reporter and office manager for The Madison County Journal.